Whilst we looked at Insectoid aliens last month, with particular emphasis on the mantis type, I thought this month we could come down to earth, [or more appropriately water] and look at a Pink Manta Ray. Yes, these rather beautiful and fairly intelligent creatures have produced a pink version who lives around Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef. As far as I know there is only one of these marvelous creatures—which may make it rarer than the Mantis Insectoid aliens of last month’s blog!
How the pink manta ray was found
Earlier this year, photographer Kristian Laine was recently diving off the coast of Lady Elliot Island in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. He was taking some shots of the aquatic life when he came upon such an unfamiliar sight that, at first, he thought his camera was broken. As he was photographing a group of male manta rays chasing after a female manta ray, he noticed that one was unlike the others. While manta rays are generally black on top and white underneath, this particular one was black on top, but pink underneath.
“At first, I saw a manta train of 7 manta rays around an outcrop of coral at Lady Elliot Island, and they were about 12 meters deep. I waited for the right moment to hold my breath and dive down,” elaborated Kristian. “When I was eye level with the pink manta, I was looking through the viewfinder and locked eyes with it. Only when I fired my strobes to take a photo, I noticed its pink skin but had no idea there are any pink mantas in the world. I was confused and thought my strobes were broken or doing something weird.”
“The whole interaction lasted about 20 to 30 minutes.” explains Kristian. “I dove down multiple times, not really realizing how special the manta really is, but I accidentally timed my dives in a way that I managed to get about 5 good photos of it interacting in the manta train and chasing the female. I believe at times the pink manta was first or second in line to the female beating other males in order.”
It turns out that the aquatic photographer ran into the rare pink manta ray nicknamed Inspector Clouseau, who is the bumbling detective in the Pink Panther movies. According to National Geographic, the pink manta ray was first spotted back in 2015 by Ryan Jeffery. It is believed to be the only pink manta ray in the world, and has been sighted no more than 10 times in the last 5 years.
What can explain a pink manta ray?
It is thought that the manta ray’s rose colour is caused by a genetic abnormality. Initially, scientists thought it was due to some sort of skin infection or, possibly, its diet. However, in 2016, a skin sample was taken from the manta ray and it was determined that it was a genetic mutation in its expression of melanin. Erythrism, a condition whereby the skin’s pigmentation turns reddish, is considered to be the most plausible explanation. It’s similar to other better-known genetic mutations like albinism (whereby the skin is pale white).
The ray is not just a cool-looking animal—it could contribute to science. The origin of this genetic mutation may help inform us about how colour evolved in mantas.
Will there be more Pink Beauties?
This question is in the same category as looking for alien life beyond our planet. The answer is probably, yes. But the time span between such events may be very large. Unless, of course, the enigmatically named Inspector Clouseau produces an offspring who exhibits the same Erythrism. Now that would be something.
Incidentally, the colouring does not to impact upon this remarkable creature’s life. Mantas can live for 50 years, so hopefully there will be more sightings to come of this rare and beautiful fish.
Most people, I think, would agree that this creature is breathtakingly beautiful, especially when linked with the graceful movements of mantas in groups underwater. It is amazing that nature can pleasantly surprise us in this way. May there be many more surprises.
And for more of Kristian Laine’s work go to: KLAINE